Chasing Waterfalls

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Hiking is so much better without the crowds…

…and when running water is involved.

A recent Shenandoah hike, Whiteoak Canyon, was the perfect trail to start the New Year. No resolution needed, simply a desire to get outside and check out some nearby wilderness that I hadn’t experienced during my previous foray into the park.

I pulled off the Blueridge Parkway and set out into the crisp winter air. This particular trail followed the Robinson River the whole way, ending at the top of a series of waterfalls. I admired the flowing water that cascaded beside me, tumbling over rocks, under fallen logs, and around natural curvatures in the land. When I stopped to regard the landscape, a tiny field mouse crept right up to my hiking boot, sniffing the air. No “stranger-danger” alarms must have gone off in his little mouse-brain; he proceeded to munch on fallen seeds, ignoring my presence while bustling around. I felt like a Disney princess.

 

 

Continuing on, the river began to gain in both speed and volume. My knees weren’t used to the downward tilt of the land, and I was reminded of how long it had been since I’d done any mildly strenuous hike. Too long, I decided.

Downward I went, stopping at one point to creep out onto a rock that made me feel like I was in the middle of the rushing river. The surrounding mountains formed a chute, ready to careen me forward to be launched into the air. I noticed Old Rag Mountain off in the distance, a steady presence on the eastern Shenandoah landscape.

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Serenity now

Then I saw the waterfall.

It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring one I had ever seen, but it was still gorgeous. I noted the way the water flowed in and around. All waterfalls are special in their own way, unique in how the H20 molecules fall alongside of rock, dirt, and organic debris – shaped by the landscape but also shaping it. This particular one looked like a water slide, which I briefly considered attempting. Nope. Frigid water and bruises wouldn’t be worth it.

At this point, the trail continued down for many more miles, so I had a quick snack before turning around to come back up. Then, just for fun, I decided to walk down a couple more yards to see what else was around. Little did I know that I almost completely missed the fantastic viewpoint! I was so caught up in my little patch of earth near the falls, that I failed to recognize that I was only partway down the flow of water. Perhaps I was too content to settle for a sub-par experiences. With a teensy bit more effort on my part, there was much more to see.

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The actual waterfall viewpoint. Hard to put into perspective, but it’s sizable.

I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.

The hike back up was was peaceful. I let my mind wander and relished the crunch of the rocks under my hiking boots, the sound of birds floating through the trees. Two red-tail hawks swooped in close and I was caught off guard for a glorious moment. At the end, I savored the keen sense of satisfaction I felt upon completing this 5 mile hike.

I got in my car, drove a mile down the road, and did another one – just for fun. 🙂

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Hawskbill Summit (hike #2 of the day)
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Back to Where it All Began

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It was cold and crisp. I could see my breath wafting into the atmosphere as I stood and relished the sight. The hand warmers in my mittens were keeping my fingers nice and toasty, my wool socks protecting my toes from the sub-freezing temperatures. I scanned the horizon, noting astute differences from when I was here last. The grass was dried out, taking on an interesting orangey hue. The trees were gnarly, lacking their summer greenery, and stood out against the Blue Ridge Mountains. The chain across the road into the visitor’s center signaled that things were closed up due to the government shut-down.

This was Big Meadows. This is where it all began.

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Over two and a half years ago, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I resigned from my job teaching, bought a teardrop trailer, and decided to visit all of the national parks in the lower 48 states.

I did it. I spent months at a time on the road, enjoying the gems of our country. It was an experience so profound that I could never possibly forget the joy I discovered throughout my park pilgrimage.

That is why, on January 1, 2019, I decided to pay homage to the first park on my series: Shenandoah. A mini park adventure to beat the winter doldrums was also a perfect way to begin the new year. I drove slowly along the Blue Ridge Parkway, reminiscing of Clarence (my trailer/home) and how I eagerly set up camp for the first time in Big Meadows. I was reminded of the blend of excitement and anxiety I felt back in July 2016 as I began my epic journey, not sure how it would all pan out. Never could I have imagined how much fun I would have over the course of the next year, learning how to navigate an extra 550 lbs attached to my car, hiking in all kinds of weather, and managing a (somewhat) healthy diet.

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Fast-forward to present day.

It was colder now, and the landscape looked vastly different. Birds circled overhead, as I sat in silence, leaning against my car eating a picnic lunch. So much has changed in my life, yet many things remain the same.

My love of nature.

My belief that America’s parks are public lands for the people.

My understanding of the simple beauty found outside.

My appreciation for Shenandoah, the park that started it all.

Sometimes the places that are closest to home don’t quite get the appreciation they deserve. Although Shenandoah is my “backyard” park, I chose to recognize its allure by driving its length and exploring its depths.

Shenandoah, I salute you.

Looking Up

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The Badlands: Storm’s a-brewin’ (Fall 2016)

Looking up.

Aggressive sunrises,

Dappled clouds.

Hypnotic blues, grays, and in-betweens.

Sunsets that steal the show,

A finale that receives accolades

and encores.

While stars creep in, a vast party that

Pulses with old light

Eyes search out for splendor,

Sky that grounds me.

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Grand Tetons: Wispy clouds (Fall 2016)

Throughout my travels, both national and abroad, I have always made a point to look up. Depending on weather patterns, the time of day, and other factors that I might pretend to understand, the sky can be pretty darn fascinating. It remains an adjusting constant that gently pulls my attention from the goings-on at ground-level. Whether city or country, mountains or beach, day or night, I have always enjoyed the limitlessness that the atmosphere has to offer, unhindered by grids or grounds.

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Great Sand Dunes: A delightful sunset (Summer 2016)

Lately, the winter weather has put a damper on my spirits, weighing me down with an in-between grogginess. A white blanket of snow would be fantastic! Or perhaps a warm, balmy day? Instead, it seems that the chilly rain and foggy haze is intent on putting a pause on outdoor adventures. Yet even on the “worst” of days, I can go outside, in the middle of suburbia, and spot a big, round, full moon that seems to smile back at me. I can spot a sunrise orb peeking out in between buildings, ready to warm up my earth for a little that day. I can watch cirrus clouds wisp through the air, waving as they cascade across my viewpoint.

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Antigua, Guatemala (Summer 2018)

Yes, the sky is quite phenomenal, a pleasant reminder of the beautiful and ever-changing world.

Looking up has its advantages.

You should try it more often.

Petrified Forest Recap

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Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 3 nights

High:

  • Painted Desert Inn lantern tour
  • Investigating an ancient petraglyph calendar which perfectly aligns with the summer solstice
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Nice landscape, nice sky!

Low:

  • Falling down a soft rock strata during one of my back country expedition

Favorite Hike:

  • Agate House
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Agate House – an ancient dwelling made from petrified wood

Favorite Treat:

  • Sopapilla (a Mexican deep-fried pastry)

Stony Wood and a Haunted Inn

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Petrified Forest national park is chock-full of fossilized wood. Based on the pictures I’d seen, I figured that there may be a couple of key places where one might be able to see this mineral-permeated organic matter. After all, how much “rock-wood” can actually be found in an arid desert-like environment?

Apparently a lot.

Thanks to plate tectonics, this area of Arizona used to be near the equator, resulting in a lush, rain forest environment. These trees got buried under layers of sediment, became saturated with minerals, and turned to stone. (This all took many, many years, of course). There are big chunks that can be found at the Long Log section, and smaller multi-colored pieces that are strewn all about the Crystal Forest.

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Crystal Forest

It’s pretty. It’s unique. It’s science!

I also had a chance to tour the Painted Desert Inn, an old traveler’s rest stop that now serves as a museum. In the spirit of Halloween, we took the entire tour in the dark. Using only glow sticks to light our way, the ranger told stories and tall tales about a myriad of suspicious and creepy behavior that happened in the old inn. Spoiler alert: someone actually did die there. We entered the basement through a locked door – a place where park visitor’s are only allowed to go once a year. The floor creaked and the dumbwaiter was super eerie.

Was it truly haunted? The park rangers and volunteers seem to think so.

Was it semi-historical and fun? You bet!

One Big Canyon

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“I hope you’re not scared of heights, cuz I’m going to assign you one of our tallest mules.”

“That’s fine. Will I be riding that one over there?”

“No, yours is in a separate corral. She needs to be isolated from the other mules.”

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Me on Cher, the “troublesome” mule

And that’s how my mule riding adventure at the Grand Canyon began (not the most comforting thought to be told you’ll be placing your life in the hands of an ornery animal who has social issues). Yet mule riding and the Grand Canyon go together like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, and other food-related famous duos. How could I not ride on the back of one of these stubborn, sure-footed creatures overlooking one of the most famous canyons in the world?

My ride was fabulous. Cher ended up being a little bit of a handful, but didn’t launch me off the edge, so I was happy. Each turn along the trail brought another view of the canyon’s sheer expansiveness.

The Grand Canyon sure is big!